By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
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By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
"They're trying to make people feel bad for her," Cross said, her cheery Midwest demeanor turning into a scowl. "I don't feel bad for her."
Allfrey, the activities director, tried to turn things positive. "Now, we don't know all the details. Perhaps she had her reasons."
"She wasn't a teenager who didn't know better," replied Lamont.
"Nobody can take the place of T.J.," Cross said, wringing her hands in her lap.
But should Ortiz end up in jail, behind bars? "She has three children, I've heard," Allfrey said, "and she's pregnant."
Lamont, whose son is a deputy sheriff, was adamant. "She needs to pay," she said. "She killed a cop, and she needs to pay."
Ortiz looks the worse for wear for her first big day in court. They don't allow hair products at the jail, so after 17 days behind bars, her normally neat, pulled-back bun is fuzzy, and hair seems to stick out everywhere. Waiting for the hearing to begin, she sits crying in the courtroom's jury box, her face red and worn. Her baggy blue jail jumpsuit doesn't show the bulge in her belly. When she finally stands up in front of the podium in the center of the courtroom, she looks tiny and frail.
"Have you ever had a driver's license?" asks Circuit Judge Kenneth Stern.
"Me?" Ortiz replies sheepishly.
"No, never had."
"Do you have any idea how long you might go to prison?"
"No," Ortiz says, and she begins to weep into a rough-looking paper towel. "No."
But two weeks after the accident, Ortiz's bleak jail-bound future becomes a bit less gloomy. No longer is she represented by the public defender who was unable to convince a judge to let her out on bond. Instead, the Antique Row Association, the shop owners who had for so long lobbied for a light at the intersection of Roseland and Dixie, have paid for a private attorney to represent her. A couple of the antiques dealers, middle-aged women who shy away from the television cameras, sit in the second row. Standing beside Ortiz is Kristine Rosendahl, a fiery veteran attorney who doubles as an NFL agent. She looks the part of a tough lawyer, with her beige pant suit and matching Gucci accessories. Rosendahl quickly turns the routine hearing into a three-hour inquiry into the state's "witch hunt."
For the first time, the two groups that have been punished the most from that accident are just feet apart. In the courtroom's front row sit a half-dozen West Palm motorcycle cops, in their knee-length boots and clutching circular helmets; next to them is the dead cop's brother, Mike Morash, and his wife, Theresa. Behind the Morashes and the motorcycle cops, in the second row of the courtroom, is the Ortiz family. All 11 of the people who live in the little cottage are there, and so are a couple of cousins and Ortiz's brother Carlos. Ortiz and Geamny Perez have made up now. He moved back into the cottage, and they agreed to forget their spat. He's wearing a trucking company work shirt with an American flag on the sleeve. The two groups -- they could have touched each other without stretching too far -- do not talk or even look at each other.
Ortiz's attorney does most of the speaking.
"We are not asking for just a high bond," Rosendahl tells the judge, "because a high bond is tantamount to no bond at all." She says the Ortiz family doesn't have much. "We are not all born rich, judge. We don't all have stellar educations..." She asks for a bond near $2,500, and the Morashes, in the front row, shake their heads in disapproval. "There are no winners on that day [of the accident], your honor," Rosendahl says. "Everybody's a loser."
The prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Todd Weicholz, admits he can't ask for a high bond considering that the charges Ortiz faces aren't all that severe. They compare in severity to driving without a license twice. But Weicholz makes sure to emphasize that Ortiz isn't the victim. "Mrs. Rosendahl made a reference to quality of living," the prosecutor says, "but Mrs. Ortiz is living."
When it's Judge Stern's turn, he sounds like he might live up to his name. "I certainly have tremendous sympathy for the victims in this case," he says. The charge may be just a third-degree felony, the judge continues, but the loss is great, and the community is without an exemplary officer.
But then the judge seems to bend. Ortiz has deep ties to the community, and she seems not to be a flight risk. The justice system guarantees the chance for the accused to get out of jail, he says. Stern agrees to the $2,500 bail as long as Ortiz stays in her home at all times until the trial. She could go out only for the unavoidable, like prenatal doctors' appointments. But before dismissing Ortiz, he addresses the Morash family, speaking of the fallen officer: "He suffered in a way nobody should ever have to suffer. This is a tragedy to all of us."